By Andy Cohen
2016 gave Darrell Issa (R-49) quite a scare. For the first time in his congressional career, he knew what it was like to win by the narrowest, most harrowing of margins — only 1,621 votes out of more than 310,000 cast — over Democratic challenger Doug Applegate.
It must have served as a wake-up call for the right-wing partisan known for his bombast as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa was a flamethrower, launching countless investigations against the Obama administration (all of them fruitless), costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Since the election, Issa has mostly kept his head down. In public, he’s no longer the loudmouth looking for a fight. When his constituents do catch him — which isn’t often — he projects a friendlier, more accommodating demeanor.
He’s also done some good work, such as authoring the Financial Transparency Act of 2017, which will make financial information reported to regulatory agencies more easily searchable online. He teamed with Juan Vargas (D-51) to restore regulations and funding to help prevent sewage spills from the Tijuana River. He joined Scott Peters (D-52) for some fun and games at Comic-Con.
It’s been a kinder and gentler Darrell Issa.
Contrast the new Issa to the previous version. In 2012, Issa held then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, the first time a high-ranking cabinet member had been so charged — which a federal judge refused to enforce. He accused President Obama of impeachable offenses, although he never clarified what those offenses were.
In 2015, even his own colleagues had decided they’d had enough when they stripped him of his chairmanship. He had been one of the most powerful members of Congress, and now he was a mere face in the crowd. The message was clear: The antics had grown stale.
Then came the 2016 election. While the incumbent Republican had always won by comfortable margins, this time he was lucky just to survive. His own constituents had begun to turn on him. Between his shenanigans as chair of the House Oversight Committee, and his full, wholehearted support for Donald Trump in a county that soundly rejected the Republican contender (even Orange County rejected Trump), Issa would have to moderate or be swept away.
And yet …
Issa grew frustrated with the daily protests outside of his Vista office and called the police to have the protesters removed. The protesters had a valid permit, so the police left them alone. Afraid of his own backlash after seeing his colleagues nationwide face brutal grilling from angry constituents, Issa held an exclusive, invitation-only town hall in San Clemente — the South Orange County portion of the 49th District that saved his bacon in 2016 — in a small venue that assured him a friendly crowd.
And despite the nature of his electoral victory, which prompted the good-ish behavior, by disregarding a district that rejected Donald Trump as president, Issa has voted with Trump 98 percent of the time, parting only on the issue of re-imposing sanctions on Russia.
More recently, Issa has found a new target for his ire — the state of California itself; specifically, Gov. Jerry Brown. Congressional Republicans (and Donald Trump) are desperate to pass a massive round of tax cuts. As a part of those cuts, Issa and the Republicans are looking to eliminate the loophole that allows taxpayers to deduct their state and local taxes from their federal taxes. In states like California, New York, and New Jersey, that means a massive tax hike on average citizens.
In an effort to protect Californians, Gov. Brown sent a letter to all of the state’s Republican members of Congress urging them to oppose a congressional budget that eliminates those deductions. While 20 congressional Republicans voted against it, all 14 California Republicans voted in favor of removing the deduction.
“Government must foster an environment that promotes economic growth,” Issa wrote to Brown in response. “Rather than sending contrived letters pretending to care about the burdens placed on taxpayers in our state, I implore you to turn away from the era of ever-increasing taxes that have continued under your administration and instead seek policies that actually lower the tax burden on all Californians.”
In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Brown filed his own response.
“It’s unconscionable that Rep. Issa would tax the people of his district while exempting his corporate allies and sponsors. What a betrayal of his oath of office.”
Issa, however, is terribly misguided here.
As a result of the Great Recession, California was facing a massive $26 billion budget shortfall. In 2012, the voters pulled the levers on Proposition 30, a four-year income tax increase on the wealthy and a .5 percent sales tax increase statewide. The initiative passed with over 55 percent of the vote. The state closed its budget shortfall, paid off its debts, and began running a budget surplus. It revived a powerhouse economy that soared to become the sixth largest in the world.
In 2016, the voters approved Proposition 55, an extension of Prop. 30, with 63 percent of the vote. California’s Republican members of Congress are now looking to penalize their own constituents in order to get a massive tax cut for the wealthy.
“Why punish the rest of the country because California is stupid?” said Duncan Hunter (R-50) in a recent interview with KUSI, voicing support for the new budget measures. “It’s a tough vote for me, but I’m not gonna keep the economy down for the whole country because California has bad government.”
Hunter later insisted that California, New York, and New Jersey (with a Republican governor) have “horrible governments.”
For a national economy that has shown steady growth despite obstruction in Congress, with an unemployment level hovering around 4 percent, and a state economy that, while not perfect, has led the way in job creation and productivity while running a budget surplus, one can’t help but wonder what a “strong” economy would look like to Darrell Issa and Duncan Hunter.
— Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.